The Japanese American Museum of Oregon has amassed a truly remarkable collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents over the past 25 years, making it difficult to choose a favorite. With that said, there is one object that continues to move me no matter how many times I see it: Joyce Kikkawa’s unforgettable stuffed elephant.
This beloved stuffed animal was by her side to comfort her during her journey as a young child to the Portland Assembly Center–a temporary detention center– and then to Minidoka, the concentration camp where she and her family were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. Much like the Velveteen Rabbit, it became more treasured and timeworn, surviving decades until it found its way to live permanently on exhibit in our museum.
Heart-rending, powerful, and unforgettable, this ragged little elephant speaks to us without words. It captures the essence of lost childhood and innocence and lives changed forever. Surely the young child who clung to it was a threat to national security, right?
The fact that her mother kept it all those years is also a testament to what it symbolized and that it meant as much to her mother as it did to the little girl. It too would survive their horrendous journey to help tell their story of gaman–enduring the unbearable with dignity and grace.
The injustice represented in this little stuffed animal speaks to us in volumes as to why we must never allow anything like this to happen again. We must vigilantly stand up for our democracy and the enduring founding principles of our country that are continually under attack. This fight is more important than ever before as we realize that Never Again is Now.
Please come visit JAMO to let these objects speak to you and connect you to the past to inform our future.
-Lynn Fuchigami Parks, Executive Director Emeritus
As part of the 25 for 25 project, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon reached out to some of the people who have worked closely with the collection to choose an object that stood out to them in their time here at the museum. Lynn Fuchigami Parks was the Executive Director for ten years before her retirement in 2021. She continues her service to the organization as a consultant.
You can see Joyce Kikkawa’s stuffed elephant on display in the museum’s permanent exhibition.